Animals I have killed, 2005–2016
House spider, 2016
I was asleep. A spider ran across my forehead, the light movement of his feet recognisable enough to force me instantly conscious and with the knowledge that a spider had just run across my forehead.
Perhaps it jumped into my mouth through fright. I’d parted my lips in disgust, offering an obvious, albeit pink, escape route. Language fails to describe the horrible sense of a large spider running across your forehead. It’s even more difficult to evoke the horror of one jumping into your mouth.
Was it animal instinct that forced my mouth closed, even as the spider was already causing taste receptors to fire? (It tasted of a weird kind of metallic liquorice.) I inadvertently chomped across the spider’s meaty abdomen, squashing it dead.
‘What are you doing?’ asked my wife.
I leant over the edge of the bed and spat the spider’s body to the carpet. My wife thought I was being sick.
‘Spider in my mouth,’ I managed, as my stomach continued to send frantic tremors of bile up my oesophagus.
Harry, cat, 2012
Harry had cat AIDS. Which is a thing. Nobody believes it’s a thing. The only people that know about cat AIDS are people with cats with cat AIDS. It wasn’t cat AIDS that killed Harry. It was me.
I was on my computer. I had a swivel chair. Because the computer was in the box room, which I described as a study because all writers have studies. To my right was an open window. And a windowsill. Harry liked lying across the windowsill because Harry liked lying anywhere that might irritate me. The back of the armchair. The first step of the stairs. Against closed doors.
I don’t remember why I swivelled the chair to get up. Maybe I needed a slash. Maybe a drink. It wouldn’t have been my wife calling. She was out. But stand I did. And swivel did the chair. Its back support struck Harry. Like a croquet mallet against a ball. It scooped Harry from the room and off out through the window and the infinite chasm of the suburban afternoon. I saw nothing. By the time I turned, Harry was gone.
But I heard a bang. The bang of a cat landing on the plastic, corrugated roof of the extension. The roof was angled sharply, so the bang was followed by a series of smaller bangs, a miaow or two, as Harry rolled towards the unforgiving ground.
And then — silence.
I swore. I rushed downstairs, through the kitchen and outside. Harry was stuck, crucified almost, in the stiff, skeletal Christmas tree that had lived out back for some six months. On seeing Harry’s lifeless body, my first thought, I confess, wasn’t sadness at his death, but, rather, fear at the amount of trouble I was now in. This was a potentially relationship-ending scenario. But Harry moved. His whiskers twitched. I ran to him, lifting him from the unforgiving branches of the tree and taking him in grateful embrace.
When my wife returned, she asked if I thought Harry was acting strangely. I told her that it was probably the cat AIDS. A few days later, wracked with guilt provoked by Harry’s limping and excessive, even for a cat, cattiness, I took him to the vet. His body, at least anything that might have been caused by a fall, was fine.
Harry died a few months later. His body may have survived the fall unbroken, but I think the stress of the experience shattered his spirit. I have never told my wife about all this — neither the fall nor my belief that cats can possess spirits.
I had graduated. I was living in a flat with a friend. I had some money. It was spent on nights out. Having mice in the flat seemed like an adult problem. Something more suitable for Dad to sort out. The older I got, the more I realised that adulthood was a serious of annoying problems to solve.
In the hurricane detritus of my bedroom floor, I lay a humane trap. Because I’m a nice guy. Because I didn’t want to hurt a mouse. And, to my surprise, I was woken from a drunken fantasy of all the women I might have spoken to ever by a faint slapping like a drumming of fingers against a tabletop.
The mouse had been caught. The humane trap fitted around its brown body like a plastic coffin. I took the package, warm, through to the front room. I thought about giving it some cheese but, instead, returned to bed.
The next morning, I took the humane trap, hidden in my rucksack so people didn’t think me weird, off to the local park. When parents were distracted by their children, I slid open the plastic and shook out the mouse. It disappeared into the green. And I felt happy, as if I’d reestablished equilibrium in the natural world.
Two nights later, I was woken by the instantly recognisable scratching, furrowing of the midnight mouse. The reader might suspect it was another mouse, a new mouse, a member of the same mouse family. But I knew. It was the same mouse. I bought a trap. A Looney Tunes type. Metal and lethal. I caught my finger in it because you can’t set a metal trap without catching your finger. It really hurt and pulled up a thick line of purple bruising. But I didn’t hesitate. I set it beside my football boots.
I was woken by violent smashing. I thought my flatmate had fallen drunkenly into the room. I switched on my bedside lamp. No flatmate. Instead, a trapped mouse. But the trap had only half-worked. Half of the mouse’s head was trapped monstrously by the metal, distorted as reflected in water. And it wasn’t dead. It jumped as high as the bed, trap and all. Up and up and up, it went. I fell to my knees. I took a football boot. The mouse and the trap landed on a pair of boxer shorts and I took the studded heel to the mouse. You might not think such a small creature capable of possessing sufficient blood to spray across an attacker’s face. But it did. I struck at the mouse with the boot until it was a mass of red and fur and tiny pink legs.
Later, I couldn’t fall back to sleep.
Billy, dog, 2005
Billy was my dog. I knew this because my father would force me to take Billy for walks. I would throw sticks and think about girls. I loved Billy. He’d growl if strangers approached me. He’d jump up to lick my face if I looked sad. And when I brought home a girl from school, in the awkward elbows of desperate and platonic bedroom conversation, he jumped onto the girl’s back and began thrusting back and forth, the way dogs do. I respected him for being true to himself. He didn’t disguise his animal desire with discussion of Pulp lyrics or self-deprecating quips.
I killed Billy when returning from university for a weekend. It must have been six or so weeks from leaving home, that huge step, that dogless leap into adulthood. I was excited to see Mum, sure, and also to escape the car/Dad’s lecturing about money all the way from the train station, but I was mad keen to see Billy. He was mad keen to see me too. Tragically so. Mum opened the door. We hugged. Billie jumped between us. I patted his head. There were more grey hairs around his muzzle than I remembered. I fell to my knees. He licked my face. And then he stopped. He shut down. It was all too much for his fourteen-year-old heart to cope with. His eyes turned, his lip lolled, and he sank as if all the air had been pulled from him. He rolled to his side and he died. The last part of him to move was his tail. The very tip quivered. A final wag.
Billy’s death put a proper downer on my first weekend home from university. Since that day, I’ve never wanted to own another dog.